Restaurateurs say they’re absorbing yet another blow as Omicron rips through NYC

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It was all looking so good: Restaurants across the Big Apple were teeming with locals and tourists again, eager to celebrate the holidays after two years of COVID restrictions until worries over the omicron variant brought an end to the party. 

New York restaurateurs say they’re absorbing yet another blow with customers again staying away from their establishments as COVID cases rise — and this time, some eatery owners say they’re not sure they can survive.  

Some are closing for the season, and a national advocacy group says some won’t be back.

“The increase in COVID cases is yet another gut punch to battered small businesses that were hoping for a busy holiday season without all of the pandemic pressures,” Andrew Rigie, director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, told Side Dish.

Just since the beginning of November, when omicron worries flared, restaurant bookings are down 30 percent to 50 percent so far in the first two weeks of December, said James Mallios, owner of Amali on East 60th Street.

Red velvet cake slices
James Mallios, owner of Amali and Bar Marseille — purveyor of tempting desserts like red velvet cake — says bookings have plunged.
Victoria Jackson

“Amali was looking like I might be able to distribute a payment to investors and a holiday bonus to the staff,” Mallios said of the outlook before omicron hit. “But no longer,” he said.

People who had booked holiday parties started calling after Thanksgiving about the restaurant’s cancellation policies, Mallios said. Then by last week, they started canceling.  

Omicron has also been “a killer” for some of Mallios’s other restaurants, including Bar Marseille, which opened in the Rockaways during the pandemic.

Gwyneth Paltrow
Actress and entrepreneur Gwyneth Paltrow is advocating for struggling restaurants.
WireImage

“We are still building the business and the client base,” Mallios said of the new eatery. He said he’d hired new staff for the holidays – and beyond, especially amid optimism at the start of November after the gates were opened to travelers from Europe.

“Now,” he said, “I had to lay off people and scale back staff.”

Ahmass Fakahany, founder and CEO of the Altamarea Group, which runs restaurants including Michelin-starred Marea, said his restaurants have limited reservations and canceled lunch service. 

He said Marea shut down last Sunday and didn’t open again until Wednesday evening for a top-to-bottom cleaning and to test and retest the staff for Covid.

Marea also has “dialed back the clock somewhat and are restricting bar seating.” The restaurant also is requiring people to wear masks unless they are seated.

“The business has been impacted because of these steps of safety vigilance and restraint and also heightened client trepidation and concern,” Fakahany said, adding that some private event bookings are also being rescheduled. 

At the same time, dozens of restaurateurs have temporarily shut down their eateries following staff exposures to the virus – or as a precautionary measure. They include: Charlie Bird, Pheasant, Lilia, Crown Shy, Benno and Pasquale Jones, according to The Infatuation. 

Restaurant Marea with its outdoor heaters
Outdoor heaters at Marea demonstrate the extent to which eateries have been going to maintain business.
Getty Images

And out of more than a half million restaurants across the country, just over 100,000 have received federal grants from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, which is now dried up after doling out around $29 billion – even after the Independent Restaurant Coalition, an advocacy group, says eateries have lost more than $280 billion during the pandemic.

In New York, even as the sky had started to brighten pre-omicron, things still weren’t back to normal: The IRC said reservations remain 47 percent lower than their 2019 levels. 

On Monday as things looked likely to only get worse, actress Gwyneth Paltrow teamed up with the IRC to urge Congress to replenish the fund with an additional $60 billion.

A mobile coronavirus testing facility
The omicron variant is pushing many restaurants to their limits.
AP

“Neighborhood restaurants and bars have given so much back to our communities, but this winter they need our help,” Paltrow said in a statement released by the group. “After struggling to make ends meet for months, tens of thousands of the restaurants and bars we love are out of options. They will close forever without help, and we can’t let that happen.”

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We hear … that rising culinary star Andrew Molen, a chef at the Maidstone Inn in East Hampton on weekends, is also curating dinners for Hank Stampfl’s event-planning company, Revel Rouge – including a dinner party for Luann de Lesseps of Bravo’s Real Housewives of New York. That was just before the omicon variant hit.

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